Awareness is key in preventing enterovirus
There’s no specific treatment for the virus, so it’s important to be aware of its symptoms and practice good hygiene
This fall, one virus in particular is sending children to the hospital with severe respiratory illness.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified the likely cause of these illnesses as the rarely reported Enterovirus D68. An outbreak of respiratory illness believed to be caused by EV-D68 is sending hundreds of children to the hospital and impacting children in a number of states including Colorado, Georgia, Kansas, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri and Ohio. Unusual cases of severe respiratory illness were first reported to the CDC in August.
There is no specific treatment for Enterovirus D68, so it’s important to be aware of its symptoms and make sure that you and your family practice good hygiene to avoid getting the virus.
EV-D68 belongs to a very common family of viruses – enteroviruses – of which there are more than 100 different types. Every year, enteroviruses cause an estimated 10 to 15 million infections in the United States. Enteroviruses can cause usually mild respiratory illness, fever, rash and, in severe cases, swelling of the brain and spinal cord. EV-D68 appears to primarily cause respiratory illness, although its full symptoms are still unclear.
In a report of severe cases published by the CDC, children with the virus ranged from 6 weeks of age to 16 years old. All children had difficulty breathing, and many had a history of previous wheezing or asthma while very few had a fever.
EV-D68 can be found in respiratory secretions, and the virus is likely spread from person to person when someone who is infected coughs, sneezes or touches surfaces. For this reason, you can best protect yourself and your family by taking the following precautions:
• Wash hands frequently and thoroughly
• Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands
• Avoid kissing, hugging or sharing eating utensils or cups with people who are sick
• Disinfect surfaces that are touched often, such as doorknobs
There is no specific treatment for EV-D68 infection, and there is no vaccine to prevent illness. It is possible for anyone to become infected with EV-D68; however, many infections are likely mild and require only treatment of symptoms. Infants, children and teenagers are more likely to develop serious illness because they do not yet have immunity from previous exposures to the virus. This is likely also true for people with weakened immune systems.
As with most viruses, prevention and awareness are key to keeping them at bay. While enterovirus infections historically hit their peak in September, it’s not clear whether EV-D68 infection will follow a similar pattern.
Dr. Richard P. Lafleur is senior medical director for Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in New Hampshire and practices at Southern New Hampshire Internal Medicine in Derry.